Thursday, September 9, 2010

In short: The Horror Star (1983)

aka Frightmare

Elderly horror actor Conrad Radzoff (Ferdy Mayne) does seem to identify a bit too much with his roles, spicing up his life with a little murder here or there, as it seems without anybody ever thinking those deaths to be anything more than accidents. Even on his death bed, he's still smothering a director to death.

After the actor's slightly bizarre funeral ceremony, with special egomaniac dead guest host Conrad Radzoff on a large video screen, his career of being a nasty piece of work should by all rights be at an end.

Unfortunately, a group of rich and bored fans of Radzoff's work (among them a very young Jeffrey Combs) decide that it would be quite a bit of fun to steal his corpse and party with it in an old dark house where some of the man's films have been shot. At first, it's all fun and games and kissing corpses, but just the next day, Radzoff's wife Etta (Barbara Pilavin) finds her husband's dead body missing from his mausoleum. She does the obvious for inhabitants of the planet horror movie, and holds a séance to a) ask hubby where his corpse has been stashed and b) incite him to murder his kidnappers.

Keeping with the character of someone who has a poison gas trap in his mausoleum (which will find its uses during the further course of the movie), the old dead guy prefers b) and begins to murder the stupid, annoying kids, mostly by sneaking around and staring at them.

Norman Thaddeus Vane's The Horror Star isn't as good a movie as The Black Room which he'd make one year later. The film starts strong, with a nice "Christopher Lee as a murderous maniac" performance by Mayne, and a mood somewhere between a very black farce and an homage to classic horror actors with the unspoken promise of future nastiness, but soon begins to drag terribly.

As soon as Radzoff is dead, there just isn't anybody interesting on screen anymore. The grave robbers are an utterly characterless bunch difficult to keep apart, and the grown-ups appearing from time to time are neither interesting nor important for the plot nor do anything worth watching, with the séance as a hysterically melodramatic (aka highly entertaining) exception.

But even once Radzoff revives again, the film only partially manages to win one's interest again. The killing scenes just aren't all that interesting, unless you're excited by seeing a girl knocked-out by a levitating coffin, and the last third of the film only consists of the killings and Mayne walking around in more fog than was in Carpenter's The Fog.

The film still has its moments, thanks to sudden attacks of the surreal and the macabre as demonstrated by the charming scene of a raven landing (and nibbling on) Comb's bodyless head.

Vane also has the ability to give his film a look that's much slicker than you'd expect from the budget, even if he's really overusing the fog to get there.

The problem is just that the The Horror Star's first twenty minutes promised a more complex and original movie than the rest of the film manages to deliver.


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